Women’s History Month

Influential African American Women In History

There are so many influential women in history, with powerful stories and they all need to be heard. Here are a few “first” African American women who stood as leaders for the black community and simply as strong, smart, motivated women.

Mae Jemison born October 17, 1956, is an African American physician, engineer and former NASA astronaut. She studied at Stanford University at 16 and received a degree in chemical engineering. In 1981 she received a doctorate from Cornell University, and was chosen for NASA’s astronaut program in 1987. Despite her fear of heights Jemison became the first black woman to travel in space in 1992 while serving as a mission specialist with the Space Shuttle Endeavour crew. Born in 1845, Mary Eliza Mahoney wasn’t shy about working hard but she always knew her calling was healthcare. She worked at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, with a staff of all-women physicians. She worked there for 15 years in various positions, a janitor, cook, washer woman and most interesting to Mahoney, a nurses aid where she learned about the profession a great deal with first hand experience. In 1878, New England Hospital for Women and Children operated one of the first nursing schools in the US. This professional graduate school for nursing ran for 16 months and by the end of this intensive program only 4 of the 42 students completed the course. Mahoney was one of those four students making her the first African American woman to earn a professional nursing license. Equality was very important to Mahoney, that motivated her to go on to become one of the first women to register to vote in Boston.

Born into slavery in 1840, Mary Jane Patterson always knew the importance of education. At the age of 16, Patterson and her family moved to Ohio in hopes of a better life and the opportunity to attend college. In 1862, Patterson became the first black woman to graduate from a four year college and later went on to be a teacher assistant in the Female Department of the Institute of Colored Youth in Philadelphia. In 1871 to 1874 she served as Dunbar High School’s first black principal, formerly known as Preparatory High School for Colored Youth.

These are just a few wonderful historic women, who should be celebrated and their stories should be learned. They paved the way for those to come after them, and we must take the jewels they left and influence others to make a change.

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” — Maya Angelou

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